Education has rarely been out of the news in the last year with strong campaigning on school funding by teachers and parents having a big impact on the General Election result.
A hung Parliament means that the Prime Minister’s plans for more grammar schools have been dropped. Ministers have found additional funding for the National Funding Formula although it is still not enough and does nothing to help with cost pressures now. Whilst government machinery is fixated on Brexit, school leaders may have some respite from the initiative-itis of recent years.
Schools across the country have lots of which to be proud, and the work you are doing is making a real difference to the lives and prospects of children. Thank you. I know from talking to headteachers in Manchester the real pressures you face to achieve good results. School budgets are falling; teacher recruitment and retention is a challenge; and changes to SAT and GCSE assessment are yet to bed in.
There is excellent practice across the country, with governors and schools leaders innovating and providing a rich learning experience for children. Yet there are also pockets of persistent disadvantage where the gap between rich and poor pupils is widening not narrowing. Even in high-performing schools, the gap can be stark between Pupil Premium children and their peers.
Boosting attainment for all, whilst narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, should be the major focus of government through the school years. Indeed, I would argue that tackling social mobility across all life stages should be the focus of government social policy.
The gap between poorer children and their peers starts pre-school, yet very little is being done to ensure all children are ready for school.
Ministers must redouble efforts to ensure there are enough good teachers in our schools. That means looking at pay. We won’t have world-class schools without recruiting and retaining world-class teachers.
Fair funding will dominate the next few years and it’s unjustifiable that schools in Bradford or Knowsley get far less per pupil than schools with similar intakes in Tower Hamlets. However, some already high-performing areas will see increases. New funding needs to address need, to narrow the gap and boost attainment where there are problems, not just allocate funding on an arbitrary formula.
We have debated education many times in Parliament this year, focusing Ministers’ minds on the particular challenges schools face. I know that colleagues in Parliament greatly welcome invitations and visits to schools so that MPs can see firsthand the work you are doing.
I hope we continue to see education in the news, so that school leaders, and parliamentarians, can continue to work together to tackle the big issues affecting education.